Sarah Eckhardt, chosen by voters in March 2014 as the Democratic nominee for Travis County judge, earlier drew fire from her primary opponent, Andy Brown, for voting to increase her own pay several times.
We wondered about that, especially after a political group favoring Eckhardt for the executive post sent an email blast declaring that Eckhardt had declined pay raises. ChangeAustin.org said in its Feb. 26, 2014, email blast that Eckhardt, who served as the Precinct 2 county commissioner from 2007 through May 2013 before resigning to run for judge, "refused to take her own pay increases repeatedly."
By email, a founder of the group, Brian Rodgers, said that he knew Eckhardt did so because he closely observed the commissioners court during her time there.
Genevieve Van Cleve, a consultant to Eckhardt’s campaign, suggested we asked Leslie Browder, who manages budget and planning for the county, about Eckhardt’s pay-raise history.
By email, Browder sent us a chart showing each commissioner’s salary since 2007 plus several county public-notice advertisements related to pay raises approved by the commissioners court during Eckhardt’s tenure.
Eckhardt, who won re-election in 2010, had her annual pay bump up twice in her tenure. According to the chart, her salary went from $83,716 to $86,646 in October 2008 and to $88,812 as of two years later through her resignation in 2013.
Over the period, according to the chart, the commissioners court approved four pay raises for the four commissioners. If Eckhardt’s salary had risen along with that of two colleagues who similarly started at $83,716, Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis and Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez, it would have been $98,463 as of October 2013, nearly $10,000 more than it was.
But Eckhardt didn't always say no to higher pay.
The chart and the public-notice ads, which appeared in the Austin Chronicle, indicate that Eckhardt completely declined a raise in fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2013. However, Eckhardt accepted percentage increases equal to the percentage increases approved for all the commissioners as of fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2011, though she did not sign off on catching up to the highest commissioner salaries.
Browder confirmed that analysis.
Eckhardt’s pay actually varied a bit more, though we didn’t spot anything indicating she slipped in a pay raise extra. A chart and other documents emailed to us by the county auditor, Nicki Riley, show that Eckhardt’s annual pay in her years as a commissioner bounced from $83,716 to $90,109 to $79,890 and then $88,812.
Some of this variation ties to the the auditor’s chart covering calendar years, combining different fiscal years, which begin in October. Also, Eckhardt told us by phone, she was mistakenly paid more than she wanted to receive in fiscal 2009. She said that she subsequently repaid the county to keep her pay through the fiscal year at $86,646. Van Cleve emailed us a copy of a Sept. 3, 2010, memo from Eckhardt to Charles Vaughn, then the county’s payroll manager, stating: "I was paid $90,108.76 in FY09 although my advertised salary was ($)86,646. I therefore include the enclosed check for the difference of $3,462.76 written to the county."
Per her past pay, Eckhardt otherwise deferred to Browder.
ChangeAustin.org said that as a Travis County commissioner, Eckhardt "refused to take her own pay increases repeatedly."
In two fiscal years, 2008 and 2013, Eckhardt completely declined pay raises, while in fiscal 2009 and 2011, she accepted percentage raises equal to the percentage hikes approved for all commissioners, though Eckhardt's pay did not catch up to the highest level she could have reached.
We see this claim as partly accurate and rate it Half True.
Half True – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
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Email, Genevieve Van Cleve, general consultant, Sarah Eckhardt campaign, Feb. 27, 2014
Emails (excerpted), Leslie Browder, Travis County executive of planning and budget, Feb. 27-28, 2014
Public notices of pay raises for Travis County officials, as published in the Austin Chronicle, for fiscal years 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014 (received by email from Genevieve Van Cleve, Feb. 27, 2014)
Telephone interviews, Sarah Eckhardt, Austin, Feb. 27, 2014 and March 3, 2014
Chart and documents on Sarah Eckhardt’s pay history, September 1995 into June 2013 (received by email from Nicki Riley, Travis County auditor, Feb. 27, 2014
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